Beyond ANT

Till Jansen
2016 European Journal of Social Theory  
Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) offers an "infra-language" of the social that allows one to trace social relations very dynamically, while at the same time dissolving human agency, thus providing a flat and de-centred way to sociology. However, ANT struggles with its theoretical design that reduces agency to causation and leads us to conceptualize actornetworks as an homogenous ontology of force. This article proposes to regard ANT's inability to conceptualize reflexivity and the interrelatedness of
more » ... different ontologies as the fundamental problem of the theory. Drawing from Günther, it offers an "infralanguage" of reflexive relations while maintaining ANTs de-centered approach. This would enable us to conceptualize actor-networks as inhomogeneous, dynamic and connecting different societal rationales while maintaining the main strengths of ANT. 1 Beyond ANT -towards an infra-language of reflexivity Beyond ANT -towards an "infra-language" of reflexivity Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) is confronted with two very contradictory criticisms (Gad and Jensen, 2010: 61f.). On the one hand, critics argue that ANT is a theory that subdues actors and their voices under an all-dominating, leviathan-like Actor-Network. This network, in its struggle for power, diminishes every voice that cannot be properly included in a knot into the network as a part of its energy (e.g. Amsterdamska, 1990 ). On the other hand, it is argued that ANT dissolves agency. Everyone and everything has the chance to become an actor, not only humans. So while, on the one hand, ANT only assumed to have attention for the strong ones, it, on the contrary, is criticized for giving a voice even to things. This brings the question of how a theoretical framework can receive such contradictory criticisms. I propose in this article that ANT can be read and accordingly criticized in both ways because it is not able to adequately conceptualize reflexivity. Although ANT claims to study a plurality of ontologies, it is not fully able to do so because it does not know the difference between an entity that produces ontology and an entity that is simply an element of an ontology (Heidegger, 1993) . In consequence, ANT tends to end up with big-leviathan like Actor-Networks that try to incorporate actors external to them. While the analysis often starts with a much nuanced view of social situations, stressing different ontologies and perspectives, these differences often disappear as soon as the actors are included into the network or are stressed as a factor if the network fails. Nevertheless, discarding the idea of a minimal "infra-language" because of this conceptual flaw would mean to throw the baby away with the bathwater. Therefore, I
doi:10.1177/1368431016646506 fatcat:gcgh267edvbbpmeuz46cqjtzvq